Day: August 15, 2015
On Wednesday, the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia hosted a talk entitled The Threat from Within: Israel’s Extremist Dilemma by Barak Mendelsohn, FPRI senior fellow and associate professor of political science at Haverford College. Mendelsohn is an Israeli expert on radical Islam, who also served in the Israeli Defense Force for five years. Alan Luxenberg moderated. Audio of the conference can be found here.
Mendelsohn explained that most of his work focuses on jihadism, but his research on how actors interpret religion led him to probe similarities between jihadism and Jewish extremism. A few years ago, he was an isolated voice but sadly now finds himself vindicated, with the two recent attacks at the Pride Parade in Jerusalem and at Duma in the West Bank.
Religious Jewish terrorism is not new in Israel. There have been several attacks and attempted attacks since the 1980s. Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of Arabs at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994 and Rabin’s assassination in 1995 are among them. Jewish terrorism cannot be separated from the settlement project of Israel’s messianic right-wing. It incubates Jewish extremism.
Every monotheistic religion can clash with the state because of the conflict between divine authority and temporal authority. But many religious people have found ways to reconcile God and the state. Religious Zionism saw the emergence of Israel as part of God’s redemptive process. Religious Zionists tolerated state action that conflicted with their preferences because the will of God was represented in the state’s authority.
Many Religious Zionists looked at the victory of 1967 as God’s plan for Israel. They were excited to return to lost Jewish lands, especially Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). The costly 1973 war led to gloom. Religious Jews began to sanctify land over other Jewish values, including the sanctity of life. If the state went against this value, the state was to be opposed.
All Israeli governments since have pandered to Jewish extremists, not just Likud governments. The messianic right built settlements without state authorization. State institutions provided aid to unauthorized settlements. Many were retroactively recognized, even when built on private Palestinian land. The IDF role in the West Bank was was to protect settlers from Palestinians, not protecting Palestinians. When members of the messianic right took illegal actions, few were prosecuted. The courts handed down mild sentences to those who were. Politicians granted amnesty.
In the 1990s, the view that a two-state solution was necessary became dominant among Israel’s political establishment. But the state was unable to act according to its strategic interests and dissociate itself from the messianic right. The state found itself tied to interests that clashed with its own. The messianic movement’s settlements built close to Palestinian cities prevented their expansion and led to increased friction and hostility. This created a self-fulfilling prophecy that made finding a solution to the conflict more difficult.